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Will Sally Quinn Uncouple Those Dueling Weddings?

4 years ago
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Is Sally Quinn about to blink?

Will she relent and reschedule her son's April 10 Washington wedding -- only recently shifted from October when it was learned his fiancee is pregnant -- so it no longer conflicts with the long-planned Napa Valley nuptials of husband Ben Bradlee's firstborn grandchild?

Smart money says she will. Or should. On Friday, Feb. 26. In The Washington Post. In "The Party," a weekly column Sally Quinn has written since Thanksgiving as a way to reclaim a coveted perch in the Style Section. Her essays tell us how to behave in polite society, and often feature prominent Old Washington people who, were they still alive and hosting glamorous dinners and important policy salons, would be 108 years old. The idea for the column evolved from a book Sally wrote a dozen years back called -- what else --"The Party," which she dedicated to her parents because they "taught me that entertaining is really about generosity of spirit."

For the past hellacious week, however, hundreds of irate bloggers and Washington Post readers have been reading her the riot act online; a few likened Sally to Marie Antoinette of France or Norma Desmond of "Sunset Boulevard" for scheduling young Quinn Bradlee's big event on a date already claimed by young Greta Bradlee.

Now Sally, who also writes about matters moral and religious for the paper's "On Faith" franchise, seems poised to commit a strategic act of spiritual generosity. In the name of reconciliation, humility, family unity and, let's be clear here, a much-needed jolt of image burnishing, Sally Quinn's belated application of the Golden Rule makes very good sense.

Politico's Anne Schroeder Mullins says her source for a Quinn change-of-date announcement is "solid." I myself think it's Sally's best shot at wresting back control of an image battered by total strangers, alienated members of her husband's clan, even current and former Post colleagues. What better antidote to her inordinately slippery Feb. 19 mea culpa column that ran under the headline, "The Kids Are All Right. It's Mom Who's to Blame."

Unfortunately that essay, while containing an apology of sorts about the scheduling snafu, also took swipes at her highly regarded husband for failing to write down Greta's wedding date, her stepson and his ex-wife, who are the parents of the bride, universal family dysfunction, and unnamed "tensions" specific to this divorce-prone clan. About the only excuse Sally missed was the-dog-ate-the-save-the-date-card. (That particular piece of paper was Ben's responsibility.)

The journalistic petard by which Sally Quinn so inexplicably hoisted herself, a remarkable cross between social onanism and reputation preservation, was a response to my original Feb. 16 Politics Daily story, and the subsequent blogs and news reports. This time when she says she's sorry, she should sound like she means it.

"I just don't want to talk about it, and you will learn why later," she told me Tuesday, even as Gene Weingarten, her hilarious fellow Stylista, who went easier on her than most detractors, was tossing out some choice morsels during his Chatological House online merriment.

"Quinn denies these are dueling weddings, using the expression 'nothing could be further from the truth,' an expression that has never been used honestly, even once, in the history of human communication. The whole thing reeks of disingenuousness," Weingarten opined. "What's happened here is that a usually smart person got rendered dumb by being on the defensive, by having her family attacked, by wanting to make things better; she wrote this not realizing what it would look like. She needed to be saved by an editor. An editor needed to tell Sally, 'no,' then stand his or her ground forthrightly."

Ahhh, an editor, indeed.

Problem is, no one in a position of authority at the Post (which, alas, rules out Weingarten) will say much publicly about the column: whether, for example, it was vetted at higher levels, or why Sally was allowed to assail estranged family members without letting them have their say, or if "The Party" column will be killed off altogether, leaving Quinn with just her gig as an essayist and co-moderator of the Post's "On Faith" spiritual franchise, with occasional determined forays onto the op-ed and Outlook pages.

For the past week, writers from assorted old and new media have sought answers from assorted Post officials. Did we get anything remotely illuminating?

Not from Style co-editor Ned Martel -- an honored guest last year at a lovely welcome-to-Georgetown dinner Chez Quinn/Bradlee -- who apparently had no problem letting Sally air Bradlee family linen using Style as a soapbox.

Not from Kris Coratti, the Post spokeswoman, who told Politico's Michael Calderone that "Sally writes a personal column and this was a personal column," and who answered my questions to Martel about negative reader comments, with an e-mailed "thank you for reaching out, but we don't have anything further to add related to the public reaction of her recent column."

Not from indefatigable media writer Howard Kurtz, who covers the journalistic landscape from the monumental to the mundane. "I am going to stay out of this," he told me on Tuesday.

Not from Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander, whose job is to write about all manner of Post reporting problems, because he's on a long vacation and thus won't be filing his column at all this Sunday. That means questions about how Quinn's fraught essay came to appear in such primo Style section real estate, and a thoughtful engagement with unhappy readers, will fester unanswered for more than two weeks.

And certainly not from Sally Quinn herself -- whose own 1978 no-frills marriage to Ben Bradlee in a judge's chambers, coupled with an early string of bitchy-brilliant Style stories -- gave her the inordinate newsroom clout she's been loath to relinquish for nearly 40 years. It hardly matters that her husband retired as executive editor some two decades ago. Bradlee is still revered at the Post, where he continues, at age 88, to serve as a corporate vice president and spousal protector.

Newsroom Sally-watchers are mesmerized by this mess. Predicted one reporter:

"Now she will write an 'On Faith' column about prayer and bearing up under personal attack through Scripture. You mark my words!!!!"

UPDATE: That is where Quinn's work will appear, now that Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli has considerably shortened her editorial leash by pulling "The Party" out of the print edition entirely on Feb. 24. Look for her work online only, in the "On Faith" silo she co-founded to focus on matters moral and spiritual.
Filed Under: Republic of Dish

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